“There can be no higher Christology than that.” An article by the late Verlyn Verbrugge

ZA Blog on February 28th, 2017. Tagged under .

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nidntteIn 2014 we asked our friend and teammate Verlyn Verbrugge this question: How might a pastor or teacher find value in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis? Verlyn later passed away in 2015, and we miss him. Before he passed, Verlyn wrote the article below. This article first appeared in the free NIDNTTE Primer, but we’d like to share it here for wider readership. -The Zondervan Academic Team

My goal is to shape people’s lives, not by “5 easy steps to achieving (fill in the blank),” but by the same way people in Bible times grasped the life-changing concepts of God’s Word.

I recently preached on 1 Timothy 2:5–6, and NIDNTTE has some marvelous exegetical insights on the rich theology of this passage. I want to share some discoveries that can help people understand the richness and relevance of the passage.

nidntte-boxI began at the index volume (5:198) to get a listing of all the places where these two verses are quoted. Then I looked up the appropriate pages and examined three key words that stand out in these two verses.[1]

 

εἷς (“one”) – Discussion in NIDNTTE 2:122–26

The section on Jewish Literature (including the Old Testament) contains some powerful reflections on Christology.

In the section on Jewish Literature (including the Old Testament), the article on εἷς cites part of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). The entire nation of Israel confessed the Shema regularly and believed it firmly, so that by the time of the New Testament, “‘the One’ became a surrogate [name] for God” (2:123).

This is reflected in Paul’s phrase in 1 Timothy 2:5, that “there is one God” or even, as it may be translated, “God is one” (2:124). The word εἷς is repeated in the verse with the word μεσίτης (“mediator”; see discussion below), with the result that “divine oneness [is attributed] to Jesus Christ” (2:124). Jesus too is God. Then, in a section of the entry εἷς entitled “Theological Reflection,” we read:

Unity in the NT is always seen from the standpoint of Christ…. The decisive advance in the NT, caused by God himself, is basing the unity and uniqueness of God on the unique revelation through the one man Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5–6 [cited, 2:125]).

The next paragraph contains a significant quote by N. T. Wright, who, in dealing with a similar passage in 1 Cor 8:4–6, asserts that there “we find a statement of the highest possible christology—that is, of Jesus placed within the very monotheistic confession itself” (2:125).

We can conclude from this that according to New Testament theology, Jesus, the Son of God and incarnate human being, is the very revelation of the one God of the Old Testament Scriptures.

There can be no higher Christology than that.

 

μεσίτης (“mediator”) – Discussion in NIDNTTE 3:284–88

The story of “mediator” is a story of transformation: how the right of vengeance becomes the right of forgiveness

The specific word μεσίτης is a Hellenistic word that first appears in Polybius.[2] It derives from the word μέσος, “middle.” “It refers to someone who stands between (in the middle of) two parties to negotiate agreement or effect reconciliation” (3:284).[3]

The NIDNTTE article has a marvelous detailed analysis and discussion of Job 9:33, because it forms an important background for the uses of μεσίτης in the New Testament. There is an interesting use of the word μεσίτης in the translated Hebrew of Job 9:33, which aided the translators of the NIV to translate this Old Testament verse: “If only there were someone to mediate between us.”[4] But as NIDNTTE points out, “the concept of mediator as known in Greek culture is not found in the OT world” (3:325). True, Moses was an intermediary between God and the people at Mount Sinai, but he did not negotiate the terms of the covenant. God was the one who established his covenant, and he set it out on his terms.

In the six uses of μεσίτης in the New Testament, it is interesting to note that 1 Timothy 2:5 is the only passage that expresses “the thought that Jesus is the mediator between God and human beings” (3:286). One of the most important elements of Jesus role as μεσίτης is that he “is himself ἄνθρωπος G476), ‘a man, a human being,’” like those for whom he serves as intermediary. The article goes on to discuss the other five uses of μεσίτης in the New Testament, and these uses are helpful for comparison. Hebrews, for example, uses μεσίτης three times (Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24), and each time it carries the notion of guarantee of the new covenant. “In his dual role of ever-present high priest and eternal sacrifice, this mediator/guarantor has by his own blood transformed the right of vengeance (Abel) into the right of forgiveness (Heb 12:24)” (3:287).

 

ἀντίλυτρον (“ransom”) – Discussion in NIDNTTE 3:179–87

Jesus is not only the μεσίτης, but he is also the ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ παντῶν (“a ransom for all people”).[5]

One interesting item that stands out is that ἀντίλυτρον occurs only once in the entire New Testament (1 Tim 2:6), and as far as we know, it never occurs in the Greek language before this verse. However, as NIDNTTE points out, in Mark 10:45 Jesus called himself a λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν (“a ransom for many”). This text, along with its parallel in Matthew 20:28, are the only occurrences of λύτρον in the New Testament.

In other words, Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:28/Mark 10:45 most likely serve as the source of Paul’s word about Jesus as a ransom for all people.[6] NIDNTTE quotes D. Guthrie on Paul’s use of these two prepositions:

The addition of the preposition anti, ‘instead of,’ is significant in view of the preposition huper, ‘on behalf of,’ used after it. Christ is conceived of as an ‘exchange price’ on behalf of and in the place of all, on the grounds of which freedom may be granted” (The Pastoral Epistles [1957], 72).

At the very heart of the gospel that Paul preached is the notion that Christ by his death of the cross is a ransom, an “exchange price,” through which we become reconciled to God.

This notion may not be popular today in some circles, but the interpretation of these words and the uniqueness of both μεσίτης and λύτρον ἀντὶ /ἀντίλυτρον in the New Testament tell a different story.[7]

 

Conclusion

This is why I use sources like NIDNTTE when I prepare for sermons: it helps me understand the precise meaning of a biblical word in the context of a passage in which it occurs. That helps me to craft a message that is clear and understandable for my listeners. In this case, I wanted listeners to understand that Jesus is the only go-between (mediator) between us and God, and Christ “achieved” this status by paying the “ransom price” on the cross.

[1] Bear in mind that it is important not just to read the specific sentences where 1 Timothy 2:5 and 6 are referred to; you need to read the entire article to get a feel for the history of the word and how the richness of each word develops over time from Classical Greek through the Old Testament (especially the LXX) and on into the New Testament. εἷς (“one”) – Discussion in NIDNTTE 2:122–26

[2] Though there are classical parallels that carry the thought of a negotiator.

[3] Already in the Hellenistic period, a μεσίτης could arbitrate in a legal dispute to make a trial before a judge unnecessary.

[4] Note that the NRSV uses “umpire” here rather than “someone to mediate,” a phrase that doesn’t resonate as readily.

[5] The word ἀντίλυτρον is discussed under the verb λυτρόω. You can find where this discussion is located either by using the Scripture index, as I have done, or by looking up ἀντίλυτρον in the Greek word index in the index volume.

[6] Though Paul uses the word ὑπέρ rather than ἀντί; in 1:334 there is a discussion and comparison of these two words.

[7] Note too that in the last paragraph on 3:184 there is a discussion of how we should understand the “all” in 1 Tim 2:6.